CHARLOTTE - When an update of fan balloting for the Pro Bowl was announced last week, Minnesota left tackle Bryant McKinnie was the leader at his position.
Carolina defensive end Julius Peppers sent him to the bench in the Panthers' 26-7 Sunday night win against the Vikings, generating such consistent pass pressure that coach Brad Childress sat McKinnie in favor of backup Artis Hicks.
"Bad day at the office," Childress said of McKinnie.
It was a big night on a big stage for Peppers, who sacked quarterback Brett Favre once and was credited with five hurries after Carolina coaches reviewed tape of the game Monday. They cited him for two more hurries than the game stat sheet did.
"I thought he played tremendous," Panthers coach John Fox said. "In a big spot, he had a very big game."
Peppers didn't make himself available after the game or on Monday, but he had plenty of reason to be motivated despite the Panthers being eliminated from playoff contention.
He was playing on national television in the same game featuring another of the NFL's elite defensive ends, Minnesota's Jared Allen.
Ever since Allen's 4 1/2-sack performance against Green Bay on a Monday night game this season, Allen has been the high-effort standard to whom Peppers has been compared.
A headline atop the sports page of Sunday's Observer compared Peppers' athleticism to Allen's motor.
Based on the ferocity of his performance, it sure looked like Peppers wanted to make a statement about his own motor.
Though critics say it doesn't always run at full throttle, it's hard to deny it was in overdrive against the Vikings.
NBC's Chris Collinsworth, a former Bengals receiver, said Peppers played good enough to merit doubling his $1 million-a-game salary.
Sports Illustrated's Peter King raved about him in his popular "Monday Morning Quarterback" feature online, saying Peppers was "Deacon Jones and Lawrence Taylor rolled into one dominant force."
Teammate Charles Godfrey, Carolina's second-year free safety, marveled at Peppers' play, too.
"That's the best I've seen him play an all-around game - pressuring the quarterback, getting those linemen and just demolishing them," said Godfrey.
He acknowledged Peppers might have been fired up about squaring off against Allen.
"You've got somebody who's good on the other side (and) you try to come out and out-do them," said Godfrey. "Julius is competitive. That's probably something that sparked him a little bit."
Allen played well, too, getting a sack and causing a fumble on the same play that resulted in a 20-yard loss.
But there was little doubt that Peppers outplayed him, leading a Carolina defense that held the Vikings to a season-low point total.
Peppers' effectiveness not only prompted Childress to switch tackles, but also to consider making a quarterback change, which Favre strongly resisted.
Childress said Monday he wanted to protect Favre, whom he said was "getting (his) rear end kicked" and was "taking a beating."
Favre said after the game: "No secret I was getting hit a little bit. I felt the pressure on a lot of plays. Peppers played a great game."
Fox has been a steadfast proponent of Peppers and didn't miss the opportunity to wave the banner for him.
"Julius has been a very, very productive player, no matter how you try to define it," said Fox. "He's done a lot of good things, been to a lot of Pro Bowls and, I think, is one of the marquee players on defense in this league."
That's not glaringly evident every week, but it sure was against the Vikings.